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A chat with Abhijit Bhaduri, XLRI alum, corporate professional and author of bestselling novels Mediocre But Arrogant and Married But Available
| Abhijit Bhaduri is a remarkable man of many interests and multifaceted talents. He was amongst the early ones in a now increasing queue of professionals turning to writing books. Besides, he has been a featured cartoonist, a theatre artist, a popular radio show host about classic Hindi movies and film music. He has also acted in a film starring Irrfan Khan. That Abhijit manages to pursue these diverse interests outside his busy assignments as Director, HR of Microsoft India, is an impressive feat and a vindication of the self-belief in his passions.
Bhaduri has written two well received books. His first book, "Mediocre But Arrogant" is a delightful account of how two years in an MBA school in Jamshedpur, sees changes in the life and relationships of its protagonist Abbey. Though the book is set in the 1980s era, the insights and incidents in the novel are immediately identifiable with the happenings in a business school today, thus proving the timelessness of the experiences we grow up with.
His second book 'Married But Available', published by Harper Collins in 2008, has Abbey working as a Personnel Manager. There are interesting people who revolve around the protagonist in this book which includes his boss, his father who thinks that he should be loyal to his employer, his women with whom he shares relationships, and his mother for whom he never seems to grow up. The book is about dilemmas, relationships and the various complex moments that surround a corporate life.
Abhijit Bhaduri is an alumnus of XLRI, Jamshedpur where he studied Personnel Management and Industrial Relations. Besides, he also holds a degree in Law. He is married to Nandini and they have two children, Eshna and Abhishek. He can be reached at email@example.com . You can also visit his webpage at http://abhijitbhaduri.com/.
In an exclusive chat with 6bridges below, Abhijit talks about how he decided to write a book, his journey in pursuing it, and among other things his alma mater - XLRI- and how it has influenced him.
6bridges: You have said earlier that the first time you thought about writing a book was in May 1997 in Mumbai. That was when a friend of yours gave you a book. You started with an opening thought from where the idea of writing germinated. How was the journey in terms of pushing yourself to write, face obstacles, time constraints of having a regular job, the uncertainties of getting it published, and then the joy of seeing people buy in print etc. Can you talk us through your experiences as a professional who was also writing a book?
Abhijit: Talk about serendipity! A friend had gifted me a thick notebook when I was in Mumbai. I was watching the famous rains of Mumbai one lazy afternoon and on impulse wrote the following lines, “I do not know why I landed in this corporate jungle. Why I chose to do Human Resources Development. Why I did not decide to stop playing a game which I neither understood nor had any desire to learn. In fact, I did not even start off being in Human Resources.”
Months later I picked it up and read those lines again and just went ahead to write the first chapter. By which time the story and characters had started to shape up. There were long stretches when I wrote nothing and then would write for a full day. The story kept moving. By which time I had relocated to Kuala Lumpur. I was traveling extensively. I used the time at airports to write. The notebook had given way to a laptop. Very often when I would start writing, the earlier drafts did not make sense. Halfway through the novel, my laptop crashed and I started writing the story all over again. One day in Sep 04, the story felt complete. By this time I had been transferred to the US and like so many first time authors I too had to really struggle to find a publisher long distance. The book was launched in August 05. Seeing my book in a bookstore is a high but also makes me feel like I don't belong there yet.
6bridges: You have been a part of the generation that has seen India evolve from the rather inactive 1980s to the post liberalization era. Do you think much has changed from the way characters like Abbey, Rusty, Ayesha and others went through their experiences in that era? If you were to etch their characters again, would they be the same as they were then?
Abhijit: The Post liberalization era has changed some things for sure. Today Abbey would have perhaps serenaded Ayesha or Keya on Facebook or sent them an SMS confirming the rendezvous. Who knows? Rusty might have been a blogger with a fan following perhaps. Yet, apart from these changes there is a certain commonality of being a college student in India that is very universal. That has not changed. That probably explains why the books appeal equally to parents and their college kids.
6bridges: Picking up from the earlier question, how well do you think your first book, set in the early 1980s, has been received among the younger audience some of whom may not even have been born at that time.
Abhijit: As I mentioned, the story and the characters are fairly generic and the characters are fairly archetypal. The archetypes of The Child, The Hero, The Wise Old Man, The Trickster… all can be seen in the different characters that cut across the two novels.
Every class has its version of the guitar strumming Arunesh, the eternal flirt, crazy professors, bad food in the hostel… those resonate with the readers who are living that experience across hundreds of colleges even today.
6bridges: There has been a spate of books written by Indian authors over the last few years, including books written by alums from IITs, IIMs, XLRI, NITs and others. Considering the success of this genre, would you say that Indian writers will find it easier to publish now than before? How was your experience in finding a publisher when you wrote Mediocre But Arrogant?
Abhijit: Indian writers and Indian fiction have both hit mainstream. But for most first time authors it is still a very long wait. There are loads of writers chasing the big names of publishing. So the demand supply equation remains loaded against the majority. It is probably easier for a small time publisher to give you a break than to keep wait for the big banner to say yes to your words.
If you are not waiting for the hefty advance from a publisher and are happy just to have people read your story then putting it on a blog is what one should do. If an agent or a publisher finds your story compelling they will reach you to hand over that advance royalty in person!
6bridges: What was the most difficult part in writing the book? How long did it take for you to complete?
Abhijit: The most difficult part for me is to find the happy intersection of time and inspiration. They rarely happen at the same time. I took seven years to write the first novel and three to write the second one. I also write for my website at http://abhijitbhaduri.com. I have learnt to write whenever there is an opportunity - especially while waiting at the airports.
6bridges: Do you see the books to have finished exactly as you thought about them when you started writing the beginnings? Did the story evolve with the flow or did you craft the entire edifice beforehand? Were there moments when you told yourself - well, I think I could have said it differently. Did you encounter a writer's block anytime, and how did you deal with it?
Abhijit: I write in short bursts and after long gaps. So what made great sense as a story often seems horribly wrong when I read it again. I first put down the basic story and thereafter try to chisel it over a period of time.
Writer block is the equivalent of putting on weight. Neither of them is good and yet I have a tendency to experience both (to put it mildly)! I try to build some discipline by spending some serious writing time on holidays, weekends or vacations. I hope to achieve the same discipline with my exercise routine.
6bridges: There are many people from some of these premier schools who are going back in time and writing about their days in a professional school. Why do you think more alums from these schools, as opposed to alums from other schools, are writing about their years there. Do you think it's solely driven by the fact that people are curious to know what's going on in there? Or is it also the fact that there is more self belief and fewer inhibitions reflected in writing about a premier school one went to, speaking strictly from the author's perspective?
Abhijit: People write about whatever story comes naturally to them. As long as there is a market for that story, there will be someone ready to publish it. I am sure there is plenty of shelf space waiting for a great story about a law firm, a dentist's chair, a musical prodigy… the list goes on and on. If told in an interesting manner any setting works.
6bridges: Let us go down the memory lane here! Do you visit your alma mater - XLRI - often? What do you find has changed the most since you left two decades ago? What makes you most nostalgic about those days with your friends? If there was one thing you could do again on the campus, what would that be? What do you cherish most from your XLRI days (We have members from those institutes in our community who would love to know about this)?
Abhijit: I do visit XLRI from time to time. The campus looks different with loads of new buildings in place of the cricket field, basketball court and tennis courts. That saddens me. We were a much small number of students and so got a chance to know almost everyone of our batch really well. I see far less interaction between the students and the support staff of the Institute - at least that's what it seems at first bounce.
Our train rides back home during vacations were memorable. There are a million memories of the two amazing years there. I don't think I will clear the entrance exam again - can't get lucky twice!
6bridges: You write about how during one's life, everything other than work impacts you. “So it is just not your professional calibre but your ability to make small talk, choose the right wine, make the right golfing buddies and all that jazz which determines how high you get in the business ladder.” How much of your observations about people and characters that you include in your books have emerged from your work in professional life?
Abhijit: If the writing seems honest it has to come from one's beliefs and experiences. As a HR professional I have a chance to observe corporate life very closely. While the story is not autobiographical, what is depicted there is very close to reality that has been interwoven into fiction. Anyone who has worked in corporate India will be able to relate to the situations given in Married But Available. While it is fiction, yet it is very close to real life.
6bridges: By another strand of logical inference, how much has the book made Abhijit Bhaduri after he made the book? To elaborate on this, in what way do you think writing
the books has helped you acquire a richer perspective of everyday professional life? Has the book helped you internalize things better, in any way and evolve better? What has been your biggest learning from the efforts in writing the book?
Abhijit: The books have helped me connect to so many people who I would never have had a chance to meet. Thanks to the book, I have got in touch with friends from school I had lost touch with. The feedback from readers has been very encouraging. They have been ever so forthcoming with their suggestions and ideas and that shaped my second novel in more ways than one. I still consider myself a novice in the world of writing. I am still learning the craft. I have a long way to go. The feedback of readers makes a huge difference to an author.
6bridges: How do you think being an HR professional has helped in building characters, plots and intrigues? Do you feel being an HR professional helps to get a realistic grip about peoples emotions, reactions and interactions.
Abhijit: Being in HR, one gets to talk to a lot of people. Everyone has some really interesting stories to tell. Besides HR is a profession where you work with people's dreams - their job, career, money, ambition, failings and of course the working of a corporation from the inside. All in all it is a heady combination for telling a story. Truth is stranger than fiction for sure.
6bridges: With a full time job at Microsoft, how do you balance your passion for creative writing alongside it? What's your favourite way to unwind apart from creative writing? Do you believing in gathering thoughts about writing, ideas etc during the course of other pursuits outside work and writing?
Abhijit: I enjoy writing. I love traveling. I always land up meeting really interesting people when I travel. When I hear their stories, somewhere I am sure it all gets stored and springs up when I write. I unwind with my family or by listening to music. I am big fan of Hindi film music.
6bridges: Abhijit, you have been a successful novelist, a cartoonist, a theatre artist, a radio show host, and have also acted in a film starring Irrfan Khan and Shobna (Irrfan even has a dialogue about MBA being Mediocre But Arrogant!).With your busy schedule at Microsoft India, the fact that you have been able to pursue so many interests ands excelled in them, is indeed admirable. Tell us about how you manage these different roles in life so well. Do you see interlinkages somewhere - theatre, cartoons, books, acting, radio and HR?
Abhijit: Each of the interests helps me to learn about a different world and in the process about a different aspect of myself. It helps me meet so many different kinds of people and their worlds. There is so much to do and life is short. Through my different interests I have developed a deep respect for how different professionals work. All these have made my own life more exciting and fulfiling.
6bridges: How much did the initial success prod you to write what you prefer to call 'the second book in the MBA' series? Would you have continued writing if your first book failed? What are your plans for the MBA series in future?
Abhijit: The reader's response is a critical factor for me. If they had been luke warm in their response I am sure my enthusiasm would have been dampened. Although I still see myself as a novice who is still learning to take baby steps, appreciation of the readers has helped me to be a little more confident. I am currently working on my next novel which will be a crime thriller. Maybe I should call it Mind Blowing Accident and make it a part of the MBA series!!,
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